I bought this tea towel, not for any aesthetic reason, but deliberately because I wanted to have a reminder of why I went to Woolpit, a village midway between Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, in the first place. What I hadn’t realised, before I set out, was that Woolpit was actually a village with both history and mystery (together with it’s strange name). Woolpit derives it’s name from the Old English, meaning ‘pit for trapping wolves’; there doesn’t appear to be any other explanation as to why the village acquired this name.
The tea towel depicts some of the facts(?) about Woolpit. The central picture is of the sign at the centre of the village, in black wrought iron, which was erected in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. That seems like a long time ago!! St Mary’s Church is the parish church of Woolpit, dating back to Medieval times which is noted for some amazing wood carvings. Within the church there was a famous 13th Century statue of Our Lady Of Woolpit which attracted a lot of pilgrimages in the 14th and 15th Centuries; Henry VI visited Woolpit on pilgrimage twice. The statue was destroyed by Henry VIII when he was reforming the Church of England and destroyed many artefacts that were associated with pilgrimages. There is an old spring, recorded in the annals, in 1500’s, which still produces pure spring water but the strangest of stories is that of the Green Children. Allegedly, in the 12th Century, two children appeared in the village, a brother and sister, who had green skin, spoke an unknown language and ate only raw beans. They stayed in the village, gradually adjusted their diet and their green pallor faded. The boy was sickly and died but the girl learned to speak the native language; she explained that she and her brother had come from St Martin’s Land, an underground world whose inhabitants are green. No one has ventured further explanation of this story and it’s mystery lives on in Woolpit. The Green Children of Woolpit are on the village sign (and the tea towel).
So why did I go to Woolpit? When I joined the Guild of Disabled People in 1999, as Director, the organisation owned a building called the Guild Hall in Colton Street, Leicester. It was a purpose-built building which was opened in 1909; in 1992 it became a Grade II Listed building. This was the first building, dedicated to disabled people, owned by disabled people in the country. The Guild Hall was a true piece of social history, something Leicester should have been proud of. The ‘downfall’ of the Guild Hall was that it became a Grade II Listed building; this meant there was no possibility of any alterations or adaptations to the building to bring it in line with the 21st Century aspirations of disabled people. The Trustees of the Guild of Disabled People took the very difficult decision, in 1999, to sell the Guild Hall and with the proceeds to buy a new building which would meet the needs of disabled people. While, intellectually, we all knew this was the right thing to do, emotionally it was like giving away our heritage. I have a real love of history and truly believe that in order to move forward you have to understand where you have come from. I found the process of ‘dismantling’ the Guild Hall very difficult, and somewhat emotional. A large building, with a 100 years worth of artefacts, and junk, nothing particularly valuable from a monetary point of view but a lot of history; a lot of things went to the local museum, some items of furniture were sold at auction, some everyday items were sold to individuals or given to other charities. There were a number of things that no one wanted and we’re going to end up in a charity shop or at the local dump. One of the things that no one wanted was five small glass lampshades. They had been hanging I in a long dark corridor; they were thick ridged opaque glass with a small fluted ‘skirt’. They weren’t particularly decorative, slightly art-deco in style with a fixture that couldn’t be attached to an ordinary light fitting. They are also extremely heavy. I had envisaged they could be made into a feature lamp, with 5 lampshades drooping like flower heads, akin to some Tiffany or art-deco designs. I thought they were very beautiful, although no one else did. Rather than giving them to a charity shop I asked permission from the Trustees if I could buy them, which they agreed to. My simple aspirations for the lampshades were obviously considered ridiculous by local shops. I couldn’t actually find anywhere that was prepared to make them into a standard or table lamp, dismissed out of hand. I put them in a box in my office where they gathered dust for a couple of years.
When I decided to retire, I thought it was about time that I did something about the lampshades. I still believed they could become part of a great table/standard lamp. I couldn’t even find anywhere locally that could convert the hanging fixture so that I could just hang them from a ceiling light. What about Mr Google? I spent hours trying to find the right ‘key words’ to tap in. I found a number of places that made lamps but when they saw the photos they were not interested; their lamps also came with Tiffany style glass lampshades. I only had one positive response, from Woolpit Interiors. Where’s Woolpit, I asked myself. I sent them photos and they were not put off by the look of the lampshades, which was a good start. They wanted to see them before they could make a decision. Suffolk is near Norfolk and Norfolk was where I was going on holiday. Woolpit Interiors loved the lampshades but they identified a technical problem which is the weight of each individual shade. Without the most enormous base and hugely heavy stand there was no way the five lampshades were going to be able to be made into a lamp. It would end up looking like a lamppost. Their suggestion was that a set of five matching single table lamps could be made with the lampshade held upright, looking like a tulip. Great idea. I’d just decorated my lounge, dining room, hall and two bedrooms so there could be plenty of space for some new lamps. Next issue: I hadn’t taken all the lampshades out of the dusty box for nearly 10 years. They were not all the same size – two larger, two medium and one small one. That was ok because the lamp bases could be the same style but different sizes. Brilliant. With so many people saying this wasn’t possible I was still a bit unsure leaving them but something had to be done, a dusty box was not an asset to my home. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Four weeks later, I got the phone call to say they were ready. When I got there they were as anxious about the lamps as I was. We both wondered if I was going to like them. What I have ended up with is five absolutely delightful table lamps with glass lampshades. They are beautifully proportioned but the most remarkable thing is the light they give off. With a tiny, low wattage lightbulb, the thickness of the glass and the ridges in the lampshades diffuse the light so that the light given off is soft, not harsh on the eyes but excellent for reading, almost as good as natural light. Two lamps light up the whole of my longe and dining room but not with the harshness of ceiling lights. It is difficult to describe how unusual the lighting is. I’ve seen nothing like it.
I wanted the tea towel to remind me of where the lamps came from but also of the long ‘journey’ I had to make to find somewhere that could see their potential and transform them. They were certainly worth waiting for but in this bizarre process, Woolpit was probably not somewhere I would have imagined there would be a tea towel because it is a small village with a number of small Business Parks surrounding it and in the middle of the village, opposite the village sign, was a bizarre tea room with one table inside and one outside which sold the tea towel. I am not sure if I was more surprised to find a tea towel or the shop owner was more surprised to be selling one.
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